We marked the start of Bradley Manning's pre-trial hearing and his 24th birthday in Wales with four days of solidarity action: in Wrexham on Friday morning and in Cardiff on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Bradley Manning has strong Welsh connections: his Mum is Welsh; his parents met in Wales while his Dad, then a US Marine, was stationed at Cawdor Barracks near Haverfordwest; he came to live in Wales for three years as a teenager after his parents separated; he was living here and attending a Pembrokeshire high school when the US invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003 (six years later, Bradley Manning was sent to Iraq as an intelligence analyst); his Mum still lives in Pembrokeshire.
I could have travelled to London to join the rally outside the US Embassy, but it seemed important to do something in Wales given Bradley Manning's Welsh links - especially after an international call-out for action - and preferably in Wales' biggest city Cardiff, which is home to a third of a million people, over 10% of the entire population of Wales.
In Wrexham, we put up two large banners: FREE BRADLEY MANNING and END THE WARS! at the Plas Coch roundabout during the morning rush hour on Friday 16 December, the day that Manning's pre-trial hearing was finally to start after 18 months of detention without trial, months of torture and the prejudicial declaration by the military's Commander-in-Chief President Obama back in April that Bradley Manning broke the law.
The following morning, under cover of darkness, I headed out for the station along treacherously icy roads on my bike, panniers stuffed with banners, to catch an unnecessarily early train to Cardiff. Advance rail tickets are the new third class for those who can't afford the inflated price of tickets bought at short notice (and even not so short notice) or at times when you might actually want to travel. In the past, the poor travelled in open carriages on hard wooden benches; now they travel early in the morning, late at night or through the night and often on the wrong days.
Arriving so early, however, gave plenty of time to hang the banners over the busy A48 road into Cardiff in the morning. A couple of folk from Cardiff Anarchist Black Cross met me at the station and we cycled off to the footbridge where I managed to put up END THE WARS! upside down and inside out. I'd started to hang it upside down the day before so was confident I wouldn't make the same mistake again, but I guess it had been a very early start and the word END looks pretty much the same upside down and viewed from the other side (try it on a bit of tracing paper!). We were feeding the banner over the railings bit by bit and it was only when one of us walked round to view the effect that it became apparent that the enthusiastic beeping of passing drivers may not all have been in support of Bradley Manning.
The banner problem rectified, we left them up and stood on the bridge enjoying the winter sunshine until it was time to go and get ready for the afternoon's event: FREE FOOD! FREE BRADLEY MANNING! the food being hot lentil and veg soup prepared at Cardiff's new squatted social centre, The Red and Black Umbrella. We loaded everything into our vehicle, a supermarket shopping trolley, and set off from Adamstown to the city centre to establish our pitch on a wide area of pavement between St John's church and Central Market, the churchyard railings providing the ideal banner hanging facilities. Cor Cochion, Cardiff Reds Choir, were singing for a charity supporting homeless people opposite us, a musician was playing Irish folk tunes on a 15 minute loop just down the alleyway and a brass band was striking up in the distance, so it was probably just as well we hadn't brought any musical accompaniment of our own.
We dished out cups of hot soup to incredulous shoppers: 'Free? What's the catch?', talked about Bradley Manning (with not nearly so many 'Who is he?' questions as usual - Bradley Manning's name has now hit the mainstream media), handed out flyers, postcards, badges and stickers and collected many messages of support and solidarity. The afternoon was punctuated with several heavy showers followed by a longer period of rain, but we stayed for about three hours until all the soup was gone and our hands were too cold to carry on flyering. Occupy Cardiff decamped on the same day, illness and lack of numbers making a prolonged winter camp unviable. We met up with several of their number over the weekend - good to see that they have plans to do more and different stuff in the New Year. I reckon that Occupy's potential strength lies in its adaptability and unpredictability, not in extreme weather endurance.
Just before we packed up the stall for the day, a couple of families passed by, then came back to watch a small child in their group clamber up onto the railings in front of the banner and shout at the top of his voice: "End the Wars!" to loud applause. Hope for the future.
Keen to make the most of the banners, we kicked off with a morning banner hang on the busy junction of Newport Road and City Road, the bright pink FREE BRADLEY MANNING banner on one railing, END THE WARS! opposite. Back at the Red and Black Umbrella at lunchtime, we put up the pink banner across the first floor windows, where it remains, prominently visible from Clifton Street and Tin Street, a busy road with plenty of traffic including buses.
Inside, we showed several short film clips about Bradley Manning and the Collateral Murder footage of US helicopter pilots murdering and injuring civilians in an unprovoked attack in Baghdad in 2007. We started with a clip of Daniel Ellsberg, American's most famous whistle-blower, speaking about Bradley Manning. Ellsberg put the Pentagon Papers into the public domain in the early 70s, exposing the lies successive US governments had told about Vietnam [Link to YouTube clip]. The second clip was a Russia Today news report on the Collateral Murder video. The footage had been withheld by the US military and it was for this release that Bradley Manning was first charged in July 2010. A further 22 charges have been laid against him since this time [Link to YouTube clip]. We finished off with a clip of Ethan McCord, the US army veteran now an anti-war activist who was responsible for saving the lives of the two children seriously wounded in the Collateral Murder attack. McCord says that "this incident isn't isolated; it's not a few bad apples straying from the system. This is the system," with soldiers "given orders to kill indiscriminately... because the whole country was deemed the enemy." [Link to YouTube clip].
Afterwards, there was food sharing and hot drinks, and people came over to the stall we'd set up, wrote solidarity messages to Bradley Manning, took info and stickers and discussed his situation; more people arrived for a social with live music which continued into the early evening with a couple of call-outs from performers prompting more folk to come over to the stall, take information and help fill up the message book.
Later in the evening we headed back into Cardiff, just past the prison, to a free gig with an all-female line-up organised by Cardiff Feminist Network. The venue was quite small and packed, so we handed out flyers and then hung around at the back near the bar. Lots of people took stickers for the purpose of local awareness-raising about Bradley Manning and wrote more messages of support in our now nearly full book. While we were there, we were invited (twice) to bring a Bradley Manning stall along to Monday's Unemployed Daytime Disco, so that was tomorrow taken care of. It also made me feel a lot better about having bought a train ticket home 24 hours later than I wanted to travel in order to pay a quarter of the price.
Cardiff Unemployed Daytime Disco doesn't start out looking much like a disco. The first acts were mainly spoken word: poetry, rap and rant with the music coming later, a total of 18 acts between 2 and 8pm of amazing variety: "a daytime showcase for modern music, contemporary arts, dancers, electronica, spoken word, stand-up comedy, poetry etc." It's unfortunate that, although aimed at the unemployed and with free entry, it's held at a venue where drinks (of tea and coffee as well as the alcoholic variety) are only available at commercial prices and not cheap. Nevertheless, it was a good atmosphere, pretty full and buzzing by early evening; almost everyone was interested in Bradley Manning. By the time I had to leave to catch my train at half six, our message book was full, our supply of stickers depleted and people had started to have discussions about what they might be able to do for Bradley Manning in Cardiff in the coming weeks and months.
Do something! How to get involved
Keep up to date with Bradley Manning's situation at the international support network website www.bradleymanning.org.
WISE Up for Bradley Manning is a loose network of people organising solidarity and support actions in Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England. You can join one of two email lists or contact WISE Up by email.
Discussion list: WISE Up for Bradley Manning.
Announcement only list (low traffic): WISE Up for Bradley Manning announce-only.
People in Cardiff who want to organise in solidarity with Bradley Manning can get in touch with The Red and Black Umbrella.
Last word on the Red and Black Umbrella
It's so great to have a social centre in Cardiff. It's unlikely that this weekend's solidarity actions would have happened without it and it's even better now it's heated! While we were busy with Bradley Manning stuff, work was going on all day Saturday and Sunday to fit a large woodburner in the main living area. The toasty warmth that spread over us once it was lit mid-Sunday afternoon was amazing and energising. Big thanks to everyone at the Umbrella for your warmth and enthusiasm and for making it happen, along with Cardiff ABC, Food Not Bombs and everyone who helped with the weekend's events.
To everyone else in Cardiff - please support this squatted social centre in any way you can. It's priceless (and rent-free!)
Extracts from solidarity messages for Bradley Manning collected over the weekend to follow.